Surgery in Korea (Part 2)
by guest blogger Andrew T. Post
Were you wondering why my mind jumped to appendicitis so quickly on the morning of Sunday, May 18? Well, to be honest, I’ve always had a secret fear of the disease. It wasn’t just that episode of Madelinethat I mentioned, though it played a part. Ever since I was a boy, I’ve worried that I was going to get appendicitis. More precisely, I worried that I’d get it, wouldn’t catch it in time, and die from it. As a lad, whenever I’d get a mysterious pain in my side, I’d panic and think that it was my appendix swelling up with toxic waste. Side stitches and gas attacks gave me undue pause. It was my worst and only venture into the world of hypochondria, and while I won’t go as far as to say that it spoilt my childhood, it did put occasionally put a damper on things like playing sports, swimming, and eating baked beans.
Before we get back to the action, I think it’s time I described the scene: Songpa Chung Hospital.
What comes to mind when I say the word “hospital” at you? A big building with patients, right?
Well, not Songpa Chung. Picture a surgical hospital specializing in appendicitis and hernias crammed into a skinny glass-fronted seven-story building with a single elevator and only four or five rooms per floor. The first-floor lobby doesn’t have enough room to swing a cat in. The second floor does, but that’s because the inner walls have been knocked down to create a reception/waiting room. The third floor has just enough space for an operating room and a…I don’t know, bandage-changing room? The fourth floor has two ward rooms with three beds each, one male and one female, plus a recovery room with four gurneys, a nurse’s station, and a unisex lavatory. Space is so limited that the microwave, water cooler, trash cans, and spare wheelchairs and IV stands are stashed in the corridor outside the elevator. As for the fifth, sixth and seventh floors…I couldn’t tell you. Never got up that high. But I can imagine they weren’t much different from their predecessors.
Now that I’ve set the scene, let’s get on with the story.
I woke up in the most intense pain that I’ve ever known in my relatively short life. The first things I noticed, apart from the screaming, clawing agony in my midsection, was that I was on a gurney in the recovery room, the nurses were clustered all around me, Miss H was seated by my head trying to catch hold of my flapping right hand, and the clock on the wall read 10:40 p.m. I remember wondering why that was. I’d gone in for surgery at 9:00 and the procedure was only rumored to take 40 minutes. The extra hour left me with a sinister impression. I was too distracted by pain to take much notice of X-Files-esque time dilation, though. I was busy pounding the nearest wall with my left fist, thrashing about like a gaffed fish and screeching at my fiancée to go find whatever goddamn nurse was in charge of this cockamamie place and get her to cook me up the most powerful painkilling speedball on the pockmarked face of the earth, for the love o’ Gawd. Finally, after barely three minutes of my bed-shaking, wall-rattling tirade, the near-panicked nurses stuck me with something. The anguish in my belly quieted down somewhat and I was able to converse like a normal human being. With saintly patience, Miss H and the nurses escorted me a few steps down the hall to the ward, where my roommate Jeremy—
Aw crap. I haven’t told you about Jeremy yet, have I? I’ll get to him in a minute.
Anyway, the nurses helped me into the rock-hard hospital bed. I stretched out, bent and twisted and feeling like a scarecrow after a pack of flying monkeys had finished with him. Miss H never left my side. At no point during this debacle was the surgeon present or even visible. I imagined that he was likely at the nearest bar, smoking a fat stogie and reading the sports news or maybe getting some action from his pie-eyed assistant.
The most painful part of the affair was that Miss H wasn’t dressed like this when I woke up.
Image by FunFancyDress
After a time I was able to lie still and the pain, having lived a long, full life with a steady career and a loving family, decided to retire. I could still feel him down there practicing his golf swing, though. I managed to talk Heather into leaving at about a quarter past eleven. She had work in the morning, I argued. I would have happily had her stay the night, but I didn’t like the look of the hard green cot underneath my gurney, nor had she any supplies, cosmetics or conveniences on her person. She didn’t want to leave before I fell asleep, but I knew that sleep was a long way off for me. So she left and I was alone in a dark, stuffy ward room with no one but Jeremy for solace.
Oh, that’s right: Jeremy. I guess this is as good a time as any to talk about him. He was a Korean fellow, too old to be a student and too brassy and buoyant to be a salaryman. Like most young Korean men he was the perfect juxtaposition of physical fitness and frailty. He was tall, lean, muscular, and wore glasses. He had a deep, rich, resonant voice, and in pidgin English we got to know each other during our stint together in the hours leading up to my surgery, which he had just survived and I had yet to. I was encouraged by how hale and hearty he seemed so soon after the procedure: he didn’t seem to be groggy or aching.
Groggy and aching, however, was all I could manage during that long, dark Sunday night. I couldn’t seem to find a position that was comfortable. My guts hurt in at least four distinct places. Only then did I notice that my throat was dry and I was ravenously hungry. I felt as though I’d done a million ab crunches, run a marathon and sung an opera without a drop of water in between. After an hour (two? three?) I managed to force myself to lie still. Whatever remained of the anesthetic in my system then took hold of me, and I slept until dawn.
by guest blogger Andrew T. Post